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The USTA Thursday officially announced its 11-year, $825M deal with ESPN that puts the U.S. Open exclusively on cable, the "latest assault on the fraying broadcast sports model," according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Only the Super Bowl and the World Series "seem safe on broadcast television, but maybe for another decade or so." ESPN President John Skipper said, "This is just about ESPN. It’s not about cable or broadcast. We feel that sports rights are the most valuable commodity in media. The difference between broadcast and cable is inconsequential." Sandomir reports CBS was "looking at losing money" on the tournament if it "had to raise its annual rights payment" to the USTA to about $32.5M in a new deal from the current $20M cost. USTA officials "sounded so enamored of ESPN’s power to reach tennis fans that on a conference call with reporters Thursday they sounded ready to move on, immediately if possible, from CBS" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17). USTA Exec Dir & COO Gordon Smith said, "ESPN is the strongest brand in sports. It puts the U.S. Open at the center of American sports culture like never before." Skipper: "This sort of old canard that there's something to be lost by going from broadcast to cable, I would submit, has it wrong." (CABLEFAX DAILY, 5/17). Skipper added, "We presented last year a coherent start-to-finish presentation of Wimbledon and the audience went up, it did not go down." In L.A., Tom Hoffarth notes the move "continues a concerted effort" by ESPN to "collect prized championship events for its network and other media platforms" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/17). The AP's Howard Fendrich noted CBS is "in about 15 million more households than ESPN or ESPN2." But Skipper said, "We expect the audience for the U.S. Open to increase, not to decrease, with all the platforms that we have digitally" (AP, 5/16).
GOOD MOVE FOR FANS: In L.A., Meg James writes the move "should make it easier for tennis fans to find the matches on one television outlet, rather than the current channel-bouncing that was going on." Having the U.S. Open has "been something of a mixed blessing" for CBS. While tennis "attracts a well-to-do audience that advertisers covet, its numbers are relatively small compared to other professional sports." USTA execs when pressed said that they "weren't unhappy with CBS, but that ESPN offered a more lucrative package." Smith: "CBS has been a fabulous partner. This was about moving forward" (L.A. TIMES, 5/17). TENNIS.com's Peter Bodo wrote CBS "shepherded the game through the Open era, and deserves much credit for opening tennis up to an enormous audience -- mostly through its substantial and generally excellent coverage of the U.S. Open." Still, this is a "great win for tennis." This is a "watershed event" for the sport, and "probably for sports broadcasting in general" (TENNIS.com, 5/16).
USTA EXTENDS IN CANADA: TSN and RDS have extended their partnership with the USTA with a new 11-year multimedia rights agreement for the U.S. Open. TSN and RDS will have exclusive Canadian coverage of the U.S. Open Finals for the first time (TSN).
ESPN for two days last month in N.Y. held a “hackathon,” a kind of “brainstorming session on amphetamines” aiming to spur innovation around its digital ad business, according to Todd Spangler of VARIETY. The main event “took place in the 262-seat auditorium on the New York Institute of Technology’s Upper West Side campus, a former movie theater outfitted with a 24-foot-wide screen and digital projector.” A “quick-turnaround competition involved about 80 of the network’s developers, product managers and sales reps.” Each of the 15 squads “had 24 hours to mash up a compelling pitch.” They met on April 23 to “start work on their proposals.” Teams then “presented their ideas for new forms of digital advertising, grilled by a receptive but critically minded panel of six judges from ESPN and ABC’s sales exec ranks.” The champion was Gamebreak, a “video advertising unit built around highlight footage for ESPN’s popular online Game-Cast service, which lets fans follow sporting events that aren’t available to watch on TV or online.” The ESPN Alerts team “took second place.” ESPN “expects to make hackathons a central part of the digital-ad development playbook” (VARIETY, 5/14 issue).
TNT earned a 4.0 metered-market rating for Game 5 of the Pacers-Knicks Eastern Conference Semifinals series Thursday night, winning the night in cable and ranking fourth across all TV outlets. Thursday featured the season finale of Fox’ “American Idol” and the series finale of NBC’s “The Office.” The game, which saw the Knicks stave off elimination, earned a 12.2 local rating in the Indianapolis market and a 8.4 local rating in the N.Y. market. Meanwhile, ESPN’s coverage of the Spurs’ series-clinching win against the Warriors in Game 6 Thursday earned a 3.4 overnight rating (THE DAILY).
SORRY, GOTTA GO: In N.Y., Bob Raissman reported ESPN Radio 98.7 N.Y. Wednesday pulled Knicks coach Mike Woodson "from speaking during his regular segment" on the station, creating a "needless controversy." Woodson was taking some heat in the media following Game 4 of the Pacers series, and taking him off his radio spot "made the situation worse." It "created another story that again made the organization look paranoid." It is "tremendously telling" that the team "does not trust Woodson enough to allow him to participate in a radio segment he has been doing the entire season." Knicks execs "knew the station had been promoting Woodson's appearance all morning long and still would not allow the coach to fulfill a commitment, which he is paid (very well) for" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/16).
The CBC set a viewership record for a first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs broadcast Monday night, as more than 5.1 million people tuned in for the Bruins' 5-4 Game 7 OT win against the Maple Leafs. The game also set a record as the most-viewed Maple Leafs game in network history. That came just one day after a then-record 4.5 million viewers tuned in to Game 6 last Sunday. The series as a whole set a new record with an average audience of 3.53 million viewers, making it the most-watched opening-round series ever on the CBC, surpassing Bruins-Canadiens in '11 (2.85 million viewers). Meanwhile, Bruins-Maple Leafs Game 7 garnered a 16.8 average rating on NESN, marking the third-highest rated Bruins game since the network's inception in '84. NESN averaged an 11.7 rating for the series, which included two of the top five highest-rated Bruins games ever on the net (THE DAILY).
PENGUINS MARCH ON: Root Sports Pittsburgh averaged a 21.3 local rating (665,600 viewers) for the Penguins-Islanders series, the net's highest-rated first-round playoff series in history. The net carried five of the six games of the series, including the decisive Game 6, which drew a 23.3 average local rating (728,125 viewers). Penguins-Islanders Game 6 was the highest-rated first-round game and fourth-highest rated playoff game in net history. MSG+ averaged a 1.51 rating for the five games, the highest rating for an Islanders playoff series since '02 against the Maple Leafs. The net's telecast of Penguins-Islanders Game 6 earned a 2.21 average rating, making it the highest-rated Islanders game ever on the net. The Islanders' previous single-game high was in March '02 for a game against the Rangers (THE DAILY).
MORE HOCKEY RATINGS: Game 1 of the Sharks-Kings Western Conference Semifinals series earned a 1.9 local rating in the L.A. market, a 20% increase from what the Kings "did against St. Louis in the Game 1 opener of their second-round series a year ago" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/17).
BAD NEWS BEARS: In Oklahoma City, Mel Bracht reported Game 3 of the Grizzlies-ThunderWestern Conference Semifinal last Saturday afternoon "managed only a 16.9 rating" in the local market, the "second-lowest rating ever for a Thunder playoff game." The "lowest rating, 14.5, also was a second-round playoff game on ESPN on a Saturday" against the Grizzlies two years ago (NEWSOK.com, 5/14).
TELECASTDATENETTIME (ET)RAT. "ESPN Sports Saturday"5/11ABC4:00-6:00pm0.5 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals: Knicks-Pacers: Game 35/11ABC8:15-10:30pm3.5 PBR: Last Cowboy Standing5/11CBS4:00-6:00pm0.6 FA Cup Final: Manchester City-Wigan5/11Fox12:00-2:30pm0.5 "The Road to Wembley"5/11Fox2:30-3:00pm0.3 NASCAR Sprint Cup: Darlington5/11Fox7:00-10:30pm3.8 "Golf Central Live"5/11NBC1:30-2:00pm0.6 PGA Tour: The Players Championship: Third Round5/11NBC2:00-7:00pm2.6 "NBA Countdown"5/12ABC3:00-3:30pm1.0 NBA Western Conference Semifinals: Spurs-Warriors: Game 45/12ABC3:30-6:00pm3.4 PBR: Last Cowboy Standing5/12CBS4:00-6:00pm0.6 "Golf Central Live"5/12NBC1:30-2:00pm1.1 PGA Tour: The Players Championship: Final Round5/12NBC2:00-7:00pm5.0
In DC, James Wagner reported MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is “directly involved in ongoing talks” between the Orioles and Nationals about the two teams’ “longstanding dispute over the value of the Nationals’ television rights fees.” A source said proposals have been discussed but there is “no imminent solution.” The source said that there “have been direct discussions with both teams’ owners" involving Selig and MLB Exec VP/Economics & League Affairs Rob Manfred (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 5/16).
SPARTAN RUN: In Detroit, Matt Charboneau reports Jim Miller has left Michigan State's football broadcast team to take a "communications position" with the Bears. Miller, a former MSU QB, has been the team's analyst since '06. Jason Strayhorn, who has been the sideline reporter the last seven years, “will become the new analyst alongside longtime play-by-play man George Blaha” (DETROIT NEWS, 5/17). In Chicago, Brad Biggs notes Miller's role with the Bears "remains to be seen," but he is expected to "return for a second season as a television analyst" for the team's preseason games. Miller also does work for Sirius XM NFL Radio and CSN Chicago (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/17).
SPICE UP YOUR LIFE: Dottie Pepper this week signed to join ESPN's golf team after eight years with NBC, and she indicated that the net “initiated the talks” for the agreement. Pepper said, “There was interest on both sides. The biggest thing is they only do majors, and every other year the Ryder Cup. It's a really great schedule.” She added the deal is “only 14 weeks over two years, so it was a simple, pleasant negotiation.” Pepper: “The schedule, more than anything else, made the decision. It's like doing the playoffs or the World Series every time we turn it on. It's pretty appealing” (Albany TIMES-UNION, 5/17).
MATCHUP OF ALL MATCHUPS? In California, Michael Lev writes it is “not surprising that the Kings-Sharks series isn't part of NBC's initial conference-semifinal schedule; those spots are coveted, and that series lacks national appeal.” But NBC execs “have to be secretly rooting for the Kings, whose advancement would set up a big-market, high-profile Western Conference final" against the Blackhawks or Red Wings (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 5/17).